Sunday, April 27, 2008

The change and The General

Warning: Women's matters mentioned.

For at least 14 days I've had symptoms of PMS. My period was due to start about April 24 (which meant that I had to cancel my first appointment with a different gynecologist for the 25th). At around 11:00 p.m., there were signs that it was starting. Those signs continued for almost 60 hours in combination with the PMS, making me doubly miserable. At last, it looks like it means business.

This happened last month, when my period dropped hints that it was on its way and then arrived unapologetically late. I don't like to contemplate this, but even I can't deny that this is probably the beginning of the end—perimenopause. I don't feel like a crone, and I'm not ready to be one.

Billions of women have undergone this rite of passage, but what I'm starting to understand is that it's going to be unpleasant—not because of the discomfort, which can be considerable, or the changes, which can be dramatic, but because my body is doing these things behind my back and without my permission.

Perimenopause and menopause are inevitable for women who live long enough, but I don't see how you can prepare for it, any more than you could for puberty. If the one marks the beginning of the entry into adulthood, the other marks the beginning of the end. As an animal, my useful (reproductive) life is over. Logic can't always overcome the underlying finality and sadness of that simple truth.

Yesterday J. decided to stop by on his way to work to take a walk with me (part of his determination to be more active), but while driving he talked himself out of working. I was waiting for him with tea in an insulated cup so we could combine activity with something comforting.

In spite of the darkness (the lights were off), we walked around Promontory Point and to the 57th Street underpass. Along the way we spotted four parties with fires blazing in the stone circles. The fires worried me because they were large, and the wind was floating sparks from them everywhere. I half expected to see the Point in ashes this morning. At each fire, J. stopped to contemplate the beauty of the flames and then pointedly reassured me each time that he is not a pyromaniac.

Because he had decided not to go to work, I made him watch Buster Keaton's The General. It's a brilliant movie—comedy with a touch of adventure, and chase scenes that have never been equaled. Every obstacle is an example of Keaton's inventive genius, and every exquisitely timed stunt a testament to his physical prowess. His character's love interest is played by Marion Mack, who is more than the obligatory eye candy. She turns in a delightful performance that ranges from expressive (when she thinks that her man wasn't even in the line to enlist) to as stone-faced as Keaton himself as she grimly feeds the General's boiler with delicate sticks of wood. When Keaton strangles her in frustration, then kisses her violently mid-pursuit, it's more than a comic bit; it's an erotic moment that should be remembered as one of cinema's great kisses—anger turned to passion.

The General is not just a gag-filled chase; through visuals and only a handful of captions, it tells a satisfying story. To me, it's one of the most nearly perfect movies ever made.

This morning a nightmare woke me up. When I did, I could feel the earth trembling and wondered if there was more shaking going on along the New Madrid fault.

Then I realized the trembling was a sensation caused by the pounding of my terrified heart.

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